Brexit: Modes of uncertainty and futures in an impasse

Ben Anderson, Helen F. Wilson, Peter J. Forman, Julia Heslop, Emma Ormerod, Gaja Maestri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alongside the emergence of various populisms, Brexit and other contemporary geopolitical events have been presented as symptomatic of a generalising and intensifying sense of uncertainty in the midst of a crisis of (neo)liberalism. In this paper we describe what kind of event Brexit became in the impasse between the UK’s EU referendum in 2016 and its anticipated exit from the EU in 2019. Based on 108 interviews with people in the North‐East of England, we trace how Brexit was variously enacted and felt as an end, advent, a harbinger of worse to come, non‐event, disaster, and betrayed promise. By following how these incommensurate versions of Brexit took form and co‐exist, we supplement explanatory and predictive approaches to the geographies of Brexit and exemplify an approach that traces what such geopolitical events become. Specifically, we use the concept of “modes of uncertainty” as a way of discerning patterns in how present uncertainties are lived. A “mode of uncertainty” is a shared set of practices animated by a distinctive mood through which futures are made present and felt. Rather than treat uncertainty as a static, explanatory context, we thus follow how different versions of Brexit are constituted through specific “modes of (un)certainty” – negative hope, national optimisms, apprehensive hopefulness and fantasies of action – that differentiate within a seemingly singular, shared sense of uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-269
Number of pages14
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number2
Early online date31 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Brexit
  • anticipation
  • hope
  • modes of uncertainty
  • structures of feeling
  • uncertainty


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